Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

At the Sherman

Sherman Theatre- Everything Must Go , Lyric Hammersmith , May 15, 2000
One could probably make an argument for the loaded syringe being the modern equivalent to Chekhov's loaded gun: if it appears in the first act, someone's almost certain to die of an overdose by the third. Except, of course, that in the no-holds-barred world of new British theatre (and, indeed, film), there will almost certainly be a gun involved as well.

To give him his due, however, Patrick Jones's take on sex, drugs and millennial angst at the Lyric Hammersmith is ferociously poignant where others have essayed the merely cool. When a young man appears in a suit with a gun, the suit is an ill-fitting pale grey number donned for a job interview on the New Deal and the gun was the one his grandfather took off to Spain to fight the fascists.

On one level, this careful sense of heritage places Everything Must Go way ahead of the competition. The author is the brother of the Manic Street Preachers' Nicky Wire (and he thought up the title first). Unlike the Trainspottings and Shopping and F***ings, the play is an astute portrayal of working-class disaffection that does not shy away from presenting articulate characters and the politics not just of today but of 50 years ago. There is no space here for post-modern disdain towards any cultural references that predate Bagpuss; here are two drug-fuelled monologues angled towards Aneurin Bevan and five dedicated to the great mid-century ills he fought against: Want, Disease, Ignorance, Idleness and Squalor.

The flip-side of this is that the drama sometimes takes a back seat to the rhetoric. Gripping as the delivery often is, the speeches stretch the play out to an epic scale dealing not only with self-harm, underemployment, and dead-endism but the whole panorama of contemporary and historical malaise, as seen from Caerphilly. In a way the show suffers from what could be called "first play syndrome", a desire to pack everything into one piece of drama; and such thematic richness eventually makes the play difficult to digest.

Fortunately the show is yanked out of its potential dramatic doldrums by both a charismatic cast and dynamic staging: panels squeeze open to reveal factory workers on a production line; miners scan the audience with searchlights and children dance in national costume to Catatonia.

As might be expected from the band connection, music plays a key part in the proceedings, with the Manic Street Preachers' anthems for doomed youth coming into their own. For all its emphatic Welsh setting, Everything Must Go will speak to anyone from a once proud place who has ever felt underemployed and hopeless.

Reviewed by: Hettie Judah (The Times)

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